Coaching Changes for the Cowboys and Their Impact

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.


This week the Cowboys hired former Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to take over play calling for the Cowboys. They also promoted defensive line coach Ron Marinelli to defensive coordinator and moved Monte Kiffin to a rather ambiguous role as mentor. Was he promoted or demoted?

What impact can be expected from these latest coaching moves from Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones?

Marinelli Promoted to Defensive Coordinator:
Based on his past record, I think moving Marinelli to defensive coordinator is a good move. Rod Marinelli did an outstanding job last year with the defensive line considering what he had to work with. The Cowboys were desperately bringing in guys off the street to play on the line and Marinelli managed to get a good effort from them. He was defensive coordinator for the Bears when Lovie Smith was the head coach and those defenses were very good at taking the ball away and creating turnovers.

Marinelli was promoted from defensive line coach to Bears defensive coordinator in 2010.
From 2010 to 2012, Marinelli’s defenses ranked ninth, seventeenth, and fifth.
In 2012, the Bears led the NFL in interceptions with 24, and led in takeaways with 44.

Recently Lovie Smith was named new head coach of the Buccaneers and I couldn’t help but wonder if he might give Marinelli a call to come help coach the defense. Promoting Marinelli to coordinator may have helped keep him in Dallas.

Scott Linehan Brought in to call Offensive Plays:
To be honest, my expectations for this move improving the offense next season are very low. I blogged last season that Callahan was terrible at calling plays and pointed out that Tim Brown warned us about Callahan HERE. So I do believe a change was needed. But in a way, no matter who calls the plays, Romo seems to change it at the line anyway.

Jason Garrett coached with Linehan when they were on the Dolphins staff and Garrett pointed out that they have very similar offensive philosophies which appears to be very true. Both love to pass the ball and abandon the run completely and I think that was a big problem with the offense last season. Just look at that debacle in the Packers game last year.

Last season Dallas finished 31st in rushing attempts in the NFL when they actually had a respectable 4.5 yards per attempt average.

Linehan was offensive coordinator for the Lions from 2009 through 2013. Similar to the Cowboys, the Lions ranked high in passing yards and attempts during those seasons, but were consistently toward the bottom in both rushing yards and rushing attempts.

In 2012, the Lions led the NFL in passing attempts with Dallas 3rd in passing attempts.
Last season the Lions ranked 5th in passing attempts with an average of 39.6 per game.

In 2012, The Lions set an NFL record with 740 pass attempts during the season (46.25 attempts per game), breaking a record that had stood for thirty years.

With Linehan calling the plays, I’m afraid Cowboy fans can expect more of the same with that being a lopsided offensive attack that passes much more than it runs. And I think in the end, that means we can expect similar results.

What I think the Cowboys could use is a play caller that commits more to the run and keeps Murray involved in the game. Last season they added Frederick at center who proved to be a good physical run blocker but too often, the offense depended on Romo and inexplicably abandoned the run.

That kind of pass heavy Dallas offense ultimately makes things more difficult for the Dallas defense as they are on the field longer. The poor defensive performance last season speaks for itself.

RECAP:
Provided the Cowboys add some talented defensive linemen through the draft, I think Marinelli as defensive coordinator will improve their defense next season. With Linehan bringing in his pass heavy offensive philosophy, unfortunately I don’t look for the Cowboys to get their much needed run game on track next season.

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Thoughts on the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl’s New Format

NFLTeams
I have been critical in recent years about the lack of effort in the Pro Bowl but I must admit it appears the players got the memo from the NFL Commish. about playing like it’s a real game. The 2014 version of the Pro Bowl rolled out new rules and had the players drafted by former star players Deion “past his prime” Sanders (sporting a gray beard) and former 49er WR Jerry Rice who actually appeared like he could have played today.

“Past his prime’s” team were dressed like the Oregon Ducks of college football and Rice’s team wore white on white with orange socks like the old school ugly Buccaneer uniforms of the 70’s. Not sure what purpose changing the uniforms served or what was wrong with the old reliable blue versus red. But to me, Deion’s team appeared to have the Nike contract and Rice’s team appeared to play for a high school with a very limited budget. Just saying.

The Rules:
Of all the new rules, the rule change I enjoyed the most was not having calls reviewed or challenge flags. No stopping the game for 10 minutes only to get the call wrong anyway and then have that annoying “know it all” Mike Pereira come on the air and start reading the rule book to us like children. You know, where he explains to us that sometimes a catch isn’t actually a catch. It drives me crazy. I know a catch when I see one!

It’s not that I think the officials got every call right in this game as I imagine they didn’t, but the game had some flow to it for a change and I miss the days when coaches couldn’t throw a red flag on the field. Please Comish. I beg you to bring this rule back to the game permanently. No more call reviews.

This game had no kickoffs and while I think that can be an exciting part of the game, I didn’t miss it terribly. Typically the ball just sails through the endzone anyway resulting in no return and then another round of endless commercials. If it means less commercial interruption, then by all means can the kickoffs.

This Pro Bowl allowed the defensive linemen to run stunts and they did so with great success. Blitzing still isn’t allowed in this game but the offensive linemen struggled mightily to block the all star defensive linemen like the Cowboys Hatcher and JJ Watt of the Texans. It kept the scoring lower and may not suit all NFL fans, but I think it kept the game more competitive and interesting.

Also each quarter was treated as the end of a half with a 2 minute warning. I found this rule unnecessary and a bit annoying. Offenses tend to move at a fast pace these days anyway.

Tyron Smith:
The Cowboys young all star tackle played on the right side and was taken to school by JJ Watt in this game over and over again. Smith also had an offsides penalty near the goal line that hurt his team’s chance to score. I think Smith will be back to more Pro Bowls in the future and will play better next time.

Frankly I don’t blame Smith for turning Watt loose when the NFC East rival Eagles QB Nick Foles was behind him.

Physical Play and friendly fire:
It seemed odd watching players from the same teams blowing each other up but this game had that element. And I must admit I found it entertaining. Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson smashed his teammate RB Jamal Charles, like he owed him money or something. I will take that kind of physical play over the gentle tackling we saw in this game a couple years ago.

In the future, it wouldn’t surprise me to see QBs skipping the Pro Bowl game to avoid risking injury. The days of politely allowing the QBs to conduct 7 on 7 drills during this exhibition game are over baby.

Exciting Finish? Kind of…
The game came down to a last minute two point conversion which gave team Rice the win. While an exciting finish in football terms, it occurred to me with players from the same teams on opposite sides, I didn’t really care who won the game even less than I did in past years. Didn’t know whether to cheer for Smith blocking the way for the winning score or yell at Hatcher for not stopping the score. Kind of surreal.

But still overall an improvement over recent years as players got after each other, and a step in the right direction for sure.

2014 Senior Bowl: Prospects with Stock on the Rise and Decline

Aaron Donald mixing it up with Cyril Richardson.

Aaron Donald mixing it up with Cyril Richardson.


This week in the Senior Bowl 2014 NFL prospects were given an opportunity to improve their draft status which can certainly impact their contracts and financial bottom line. Each year some guys help themselves while others may actually hurt themselves during the week.

First a look at the prospects that I think are on the move up after the Senior Bowl and then those who may be trending down now.

STOCK on the RISE
DT Aaron Donald– Donald had a very productive college career at Pittsburg but was still a NFL prospect that many weren’t very familiar with. That all changed with just a few practices this week as Donald proved too quick to block. In the 4th quarter of the game Donald came up the middle and pressured the QB and effectively altered the throw which resulted in a interception.

Donald was named the top player at practice for the week.

Some choose to point out that Donald doesn’t represent ideal size at 6’0 tall, but with his outstanding quickness, he will be ideal as 3 technique in a 4-3 defense like the Dallas Cowboys run for example. (You need this guy Jerry Jones)

At the start of the Senior Bowl week, Donald was considered a 2nd round pick but now it appears highly unlikely that he will make it out of the first round.

QB Derek Carr– Scouts were impressed with the play of Carr during practices this week and he clearly separated himself from the rest of the pack of QBs at the Senior Bowl as the best prospect. Carr displays a big arm that NFL scouts like to see and he performed well in the game going 7/11, 45 yards, 1 TD.

Currently Carr is expected to get drafted late in the 1st round or perhaps in the 2nd round. His play this week may push him up into the 1st round for sure.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo– Garoppolo is the QB who played at Tony Romo’s school Eastern Illinois and smashed many of his records. Scouts wanted to see how he would play against a higher level of competition and Jimmy actually performed pretty good. Scouts love his quick release in passing the ball and he showed during the game that he can pass well on the move while rolling out. Jimmy also shows a nice touch on his throws.

What he doesn’t show however is a really strong NFL type arm and that may make teams draft him a little later. During the game, Jimmy went 6/12 for 32 yards. Currently he is rated as a 2nd round pick and during the week he helped establish himself as a solid NFL prospect.

DE/OLB Dee Ford– Ford had a great game as he was constantly flying into the backfield chasing the QBs. He finished the game with 2 sacks and a pass knocked down. All week scouts talked about how quickly he glided around offensive tackles and he didn’t disappoint in the game. Ford could be considered a DE in a 4-3 defense as a bit of a pass rush specialist but he is being looked at as a OLB for a 3-4. I think both schemes are going to like what he can do.

Ford who was named MVP of the Senior Bowl, is considered a 2nd round pick but he may have improved his status this week as his performance in the game reminds me of defensive lineman Ziggy Ansah in the Senior Bowl last year who the Lions drafted in the first round in 2013. It’s difficult to imagine Ford remaining on the board long now.

OT Zack Martin- Martin’s name was mentioned often this week as performing well in blocking some very talented defensive linemen. Martin who played tackle at Notre Dame, is likely to move to guard at the next level but he showed this week that he can help an NFL offensive line at either spot.

Martin definitely helped himself this week in establishing himself as a 1st round pick.

RB James White– As far as RBs go, White had the best game finishing with 61 yards and a TD. Ranked as a 5th round pick but his stock is rising after a strong performance running the ball today.

QB David Fales– There was no hype about this QB coming into the Senior Bowl but Fales came in the game late and played very well going 6/7, 104 yards and a TD. Prior to the game he was ranked the 8th top QB prospect for the draft but I think he makes scouts take a closer look at him after the game.

STOCK FALLING?
All 3 ACC QBs– During the week, scouts described the QB play of Tahj Boyd, Logan Thomas, and Stephen Morris as far less than stellar. It was tough to believe they were that bad but during the game they were that bad and showed they aren’t ready to even play big time college football not to mention the NFL.

They combined for a dismal 21/39, 138 yards, 0 TDs and 3 interceptions. These 3 do show talent but must be considered projects as they will need time to develop before playing at the NFL level. Their stock drops this week.

Guard Cyril Richardson– Richardson came into the game as the top ranked guard in the draft but he got off to a bad start as DT Aaron Donald exploited his weaknesses at practice. Richardson is great at blocking straight ahead in run blocking but when asked to move laterally in pass blocking, he gets off balance. He followed some tough moments in practice with a rather average game performance.

Richardson is still one of the best guards available in the draft but now teams realize part of his game will need some developing. Cyril didn’t help his stock this week at all.

2014 Senior Bowl Prospects the Cowboys Should Have an Eye On

Each season the Senior Bowl provides a good arena for NFL scouts to evaluate the best college football players entering the NFL draft as they watch them compete against each other. It’s quite possible that the Dallas Cowboys first pick in the draft could be playing in the all star game Saturday January 25.

Previously I made the case in a blog that the Cowboys really should be focused on improving their defensive line and that they need a guard on the offensive line. HERE

A look at the NFL prospects on the North and South rosters that the Cowboys may be keeping an eye on.

Defensive Linemen:
NORTH SQUAD
DT Aaron Donald Pitt 6’0, 285
Donald has been described by some offensive coaches as a “one man wrecking crew” as he displays outstanding quickness that makes him very difficult to block. At Pittsburg he was quite productive as he was named the ACC defensive player of the year.
-led the nation in tackles for a loss with 2.2/game.
-ranked 13th in sacks
-ranked 10th in forced fumbles

Donald has an uncanny ability to split double teams leaving one to wonder why offenses even attempt it? Oh and if you are going to ask your guard to reach block Donald, good luck with that. In a game against Duke this year, Donald tackled two players in the backfield at the same time VIDEO (Note the unsuccessful reach block)

How Dallas could use him: It’s not certain at all that Dallas can resign DT Hatcher who had an excellent season and even if they can, depth is a big need on the defensive front as Hatcher turns 32. Donald appears to be almost a perfect fit in the Cowboys 4-3 defense as a 3 technique. Donald would make the Cowboys often exploited defense better against the run with his penetrating tackles for loss, while improving their pass defense by providing pressure on the QB from inside. While smaller than most DT prospects, Donald’s quickness would prove to be a good fit in a 4-3 defense.

Draft Status: Ranked the 6th DT by CBS Sports and currently considered a 2nd round pick which would represent a good value in my view. With a good performance, I look for him to move up after Senior Bowl week.

DT Re Shede Hageman Minnesota 6’6, 311
Hageman offers the combination of good size and decent quickness on the defensive line. He is considered a possible one or three technique upfront as he has the ability to play either in a 4-3. Some consider Hageman a “boom or bust” pick so he has a bit to prove in the Senior Bowl in front of scouts. At times, his effort on plays isn’t always there.

How Dallas could use him: His versatility on the defensive line would be handy for sure as he could be moved around. Capable of stuffing the run inside.

Draft status: Ranked the 2nd DT in the draft and considered a first round pick. How he performs this week could determine if he is an early first rounder or late first rounder.

DE Kareem Martin UNC 6’6, 265
Martin has ideal athletic ability and size to play DE in the NFL. He certainly meets the eye test in other words. However the amount of effort he gives at times is questionable and that’s where he needs to prove to scouts that he has got a good motor.

He reminds me a bit of a talented defensive lineman named Quinton Coples who also played DE at UNC and after a good Senior Bowl week, was drafted by the Jets in the first round of the 2012 draft. Similarly Coples entered the NFL with questions about his effort on every play. Martin has all the tools to be a nice addition to a defensive line but where he should go in the draft is not certain.

How Dallas could use him: With free agent DE Anthony Spencer coming off an injury, it would make sense for Dallas to draft a DE who could get in the mix right away. Martin will be a good fit as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense.

Draft Status: Ranked 9th among DEs entering the draft. Currently considered a 3rd rounder but talented enough to increase interest from scouts this week.

South SQUAD
DT Will Sutton Arizona St. 6’1, 315
Named Pac 12 defensive player of the year in 2012 and 2013. Displays nice quickness and he draws a lot of double team blocks because of his ability to get up field.

How Dallas could use him: Appears able to play both the 1 and 3 technique but I think he will be best at the 1 at the NFL level. Will be a solid defender against the run in the middle making Dallas not need Nick Hayden as much.

Draft Status: Considered a 2nd round pick. His numbers dropped in 2013 after a very good 2012 so scouts want to see him perform this week and determine which version they are drafting.

OFFENSE
NORTH ROSTER
GUARD Cyril Richardson Baylor 6’5, 335
Described as a “mauler” Richardson is big and strong and capable of shoving defenders out of his way. On video, I noticed Baylor preferred running behind Richardson at the goal line and he came through for them most the time. He has experience playing left tackle too. In pass blocking he holds up just fine to bull rush attempts but when asked to handle stunts by defensive linemen, he was inconsistent.

How Dallas could use him: Dallas currently has no depth at guard and last season Ron Leary was the weak link on their improved offensive line. Richardson would help the Cowboys run game immediately as a plug and play pick.

Draft status: He is the 3rd ranked guard and currently is expected to go in the second round. If Richardson can do well this week in pass protection drills, his stock may rise.

GUARD Gabe Jackson Miss. St. 6’4, 335
In watching video of Jackson, I was impressed with his pass blocking ability. His development appears more NFL ready than other guard prospects I have seen such as Cyril Richardson. He moves well laterally and is not confused by stunts.

How he helps Dallas: The Cowboys could use a guard that can play right away and since they pass often, Jackson’s skills will be put to use immediately.

Draft Status: He is the 5th ranked guard entering the draft and is a projected 3rd round pick. With a good week, Jackson could catch the eye of NFL scouts during pass protection drills.

Senior Bowl week will provide many prospects an opportunity to improve their draft status. Each game some move up while others move down during the week. The Cowboys could use a very quick DT like Aaron Donald who is one guy to keep an eye on this week.

They also could use a guard and while Cyril Richardson represents excellent run blocking, Gabe Jackson may offer better pass protection. This week one of them may catch the eye of Cowboy scouts and separate from the pack.

Dallas Cowboys 2014 Draft Needs: The Offense

romo broncos
In a previous blog, I looked at how Dallas can improve their defense through the draft. Now a look at the offense which actually didn’t perform as poorly as the defense did last season.

Offense rankings last season:
16th in total yards.
5th in scoring. The offense scored 27.4 points/game.
14th in passing yards.
24th rushing yards.
7th in fewest sacks allowed. (Allowed 35 sacks)
8th in yards per rush with 4.5 yards/rush.

I think the offensive line is an area that could be improved next season. The run game needs to become more consistent as they ranked 24th in rushing yards. However they did run for 4.5 yards per rush which indicates the Cowboys play calling actually is a problem since they tend to mysteriously abandon the run in games even when they are effectively running it. “Can’t fix stupid” and the draft can’t fix bad play calling.

Last year the offensive line performed better than in 2012. I think it can be attributed to the addition of rookie center Travis Frederick who solidified the middle of the line. Pro Football Focus ranked Frederick as the top run blocking center in the League.

Also young tackle Tyron Smith was outstanding as he seem to become very comfortable in his left tackle spot this year and was named to the Pro Bowl team. Even Doug Free performed well at right tackle which was a big concern coming into the season.

The center position is in good hands and the starting tackles are in place but it may not be a bad idea for Dallas to try to upgrade their depth at tackle at some point in the draft.

Biggest draft needs by offensive position, ranked in order of need.

1. Guard
Guard Nate Livings was out all season with an injury and the Cowboys released him. GM Jerry Jones attempted to get by with 36 year old veteran guard Brian Waters but predictably, he didn’t last for half a season before getting injured. Waters future isn’t clear at this time.

Undrafted guard Ronald Leary and career back up guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, held down the guard positions and didn’t perform terribly but make no mistake about it, there is plenty room for improvement here. Bernadeau seemed to play better toward the end of the season.

There is no depth to speak of at guard currently.

2014 DRAFT– I was actually surprised and a little disappointed, that Jerry failed to draft a guard last year but I think he may see the need this time. Dallas could use a guard who can play right away so I look for them to draft one early.

Prospect: G Cyril Richardson Baylor. Cyril is large at 6-5, 340 pounds and is described as a “mauler”. For his size, he does move quite well. With Richardson lined up next to Tyron Smith, and with Murray carrying the ball, the Cowboys could establish a very physical run game. Cyril is originally from Fort Worth and is ranked as the second highest guard in the draft. (cbssports)

2. Wide Receiver
Currently the Cowboys are in good shape at WR. Dez Bryant had a good season and appears to be one of the better WRs in the NFL. He was ranked 3rd among WRs in TDs with 13 for the season.

Cole Beasley has been a good pick up for Dallas and Dewayne Harris is an option at WR not used as often as he should be in my opinion.

Miles Austin is expected to be released REPORT by the Cowboys after missing 5 games with his nagging hamstring injury and catching only 24 passes.

Rookie Terrance Williams improved as the season progressed and appears to be a guy Dallas feels good about replacing Austin. Williams finished with 44 catches, 736 yards and 5 TDs.

2014 DRAFT-If Austin is released as expected, then I think Dallas may draft a WR to add depth. I would look for them to pick up a WR in the middle to late rounds of the draft.

3. Quarterback
Jerry Jones locked Tony Romo with a large contract extension so a commitment has been made that leaves Romo as QB. Romo had a good season (QB rating of 96.7) and gave a heroic effort at the end of the Redskins game, leading them to a win. He suffered a back injury that caused him to miss the last game. Jerry expects Romo to fully recover and be ready to go next season but I have concerns that the serious back injury could become an issue next season over the course of 16 games. We will see how that plays out.

Kyle Orton the Cowboys well paid backup, was called upon in the Eagles game and given the circumstances, I thought he played as well as could be expected. He did a nice job of getting the passes away quickly and avoiding sacks. He represents a dependable option in the absence of Romo.

Alex Tanney was placed on the Cowboys practice squad but was picked up by the QB desperate Browns, late in the season. I thought Tanney was a good young prospect and it’s unfortunate that they lost him. Dallas found themselves without a 3rd string QB in that last game, so finding a 3rd string QB will be a priority.

2014 DRAFT– The Cowboys need a 3rd string QB and may draft one to be developed on the practice squad but I think they are more likely to find a undrafted rookie or experienced free agent to fill that role. If they draft a QB, I expect it to be late in the draft.

4. Tight End
Currently the Cowboys have 3 TEs on their roster with Jason Witten as their main target. James Hanna was added in 2012 and last season they added rookie Gavin Escobar. Of those two, Escobar had the more productive season with 9 catches, 134 yards and 2 TDs. In the final game, Escobar had a spectacular TD catch as he cart wheeled into the endzone. VIDEO
I expect Escobar to be worked into the Dallas offense more next season.

2014 DRAFT– I don’t look for Dallas to draft a TE unless they feel the need to keep 4 on the roster next season.

5. Running Back
DeMarco Murray proved to be more reliable last season as he played in 14 games and finished with 1,129 yards rushing and 9 TDs. Murray finished 10th in total rushing yards in the NFL.

Lance Dunbar was having an excellent season before going out with a knee injury on Thanksgiving Day against the Raiders. Dunbar is expected to recover and participate in preseason workouts. He provides the Cowboys offense more explosiveness through the run and receiving out of the backfield. I look for Dunbar to be integrated more in the offense next season.

Rookie Joseph Randle was solid as a backup for Dallas. He provided 65 yards rushing in the early win against the Eagles and 53 yards against the Bears. At this point, he needs to improve on his pass protection assignments to see more action.

Phillip Tanner was used very little by Dallas last season but was on the roster. It’s not clear if he will be on the team next year or not, but I think they will probably keep him as the 4th RB.

2014 DRAFT-With Dunbar expected to recover from knee surgery, drafting a RB is not expected. If they don’t keep Tanner, they could possibly draft one late.

Conclusion:
In 2011, Dallas drafted tackle Tyron Smith in the first round and in 2013 they picked up center Travis Frederick in the first. I think it’s time for Dallas to add a guard to their offensive line who can play right away and help establish a consistent run game.

With Austin likely to be released, I think Dallas may pick up a WR for depth. They need a 3rd string QB to replace Tanney but I’m not convinced they will pick one up through the draft. I don’t look for Dallas to draft a TE or RB this year.

Dallas Cowboys 2014 Draft Needs: The Defense

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.


Looking forward after a disappointing finish to the 2013 season, the Dallas Cowboys clearly have needs on the defensive side of the ball. In 2013, they transitioned to Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense and to say the least, they struggled at times.
A look at their defensive rankings:

-They allowed more yards per game than ANY other team in the NFL.
-They allowed 27 points per game.
-They ranked 25th in sacks with 34 for the season.
-They ranked 30th in pass defense allowing almost 300 passing yards per game.
-They ranked 27th in run defense.

With the draft approaching in April, a look at the needs on defense by position, starting with the positions of greatest need and working down to the least.

1. Defensive Tackle:
The defensive line will be the key to Dallas improving their defense next season. Things started off poorly in 2013, with Ratliff claiming a hamstring injury and then moving on to play for the Bears. During the season we saw a lot of new faces brought in off the street to help at DT. Nick Hayden gave an admirable effort playing in the one technique plugging the middle of the line but there is plenty room for improvement here.

DT Hatcher had an outstanding season as the defensive line’s most consistent player but at this point, it’s not certain at all that owner Jerry Jones will be able to resign Hatcher and bring him back next season. If Hatcher doesn’t return, then DT will certainly be a position that needs to be addressed within the first two picks of the draft. If Jerry manages to sign Hatcher, I still think they could use a good young DT to work into the rotation.

2014 DRAFT– With Ratliff gone and Hatcher’s return questionable, I expect Dallas to draft a DT very early, either in the first or second round of the draft.

Prospect: I think Aaron Donald at Pittsburg is exactly the kind of attacking defensive tackle that coach Rod Marinelli is looking for. Donald appears ideal for a 3 technique in a 4-3 defense. A highlight video of Arnold HERE. Notice the play where he just tackles both the RB and QB in the backfield to make sure he gets the right one.

2. Defensive End:
Sticking with the defensive line, the Cowboys suffered a set back early in the season when DE Anthony Spencer missed the season with a knee injury. I doubt that Jerry will be able to sign Spencer this season as he used the franchise tag in 2013. If Spencer doesn’t get signed, then DE becomes a pretty big area of need.

The Cowboys were fortunate to find free agent DE George Selvie who played well for them in the absence of Spencer.

Ware played through injuries but his production was way down last season and not up to what fans expect from him.

Tyrone Crawford missed the entire season with an injury but is thought to be able to help them next season at DE. Crawford was actually drafted to play DE in a 3-4 defense and I think ultimately he will be better suited to play defensive tackle in the 4-3.

2014 DRAFT– With Spencer likely gone and Ware not so healthy, I look for Dallas to draft a DE in about the 3rd or 4th round of the draft.

Prospect: I think Jackson Jeffcoat at Texas could be an ideal fit at DE in the 4-3 defense. That name may sound familiar as his father Jim Jeffcoat was an outstanding defensive end for Dallas who was drafted in 1983. Jim once sacked Redskin QB Joe Theismann 5 times in one game. Highlights of Jackson HERE.

3. Linebacker:
Each season it seems the Cowboys become thin at the LB position and in 2013, it happened again with an injury to Sean Lee. Lee was excellent as a middle LB in the 4-3 defense but his injuries kept him from playing late in the season when Dallas really needed him.

Bruce Carter struggled often in coverage particularly with backs coming out of the back field to catch passes.

Rookie LB DeVonte Holloman was injured early in the season but played well late in the year. I think Dallas found a LB who can help in coverage in Holloman and I look for him to start next season.

2014 DRAFT: While LB is not the most glaring need for this defense, I think drafting a LB for depth at some point in the draft, makes sense. Eventually in 2014, they will be glad they did.

4. Safety:
It seems safety is a weak spot for Dallas every season and it just never quite gets addressed. Last year, Jones drafted safety JJ Wilcox who finished the season with a disappointing 0 INTs. More turnovers are expected from safeties in the Tampa 2 defense. Wilcox is a young and inexperienced safety and that’s what he played like. I think Dallas likes the potential they see in him.

Barry Church was solid as an in the box safety effectively supporting the run defense. Church finished with an impressive 134 tackles but only one interception last season.

Rookie free agent Jeff Heath started 9 games in 2013 and came up with 1 INT. and one forced fumble. While Heath showed some promise at times, he struggled at times too. He may improve a great deal in his 2nd season.

2014 DRAFT: While it appears Dallas is fairly satisfied with their safeties, they could really use a safety that can cover receivers. I think it would make the most sense to obtain a veteran safety in free agency that can help the pass defense. Dallas could add a safety late in the draft but I don’t expect them to.

5. Cornerback:
Dallas was weak against the pass last season but I actually don’t expect much to change in the secondary.

Last season Orlando Scandrick was the most consistent CB and while Brandon Carr had a tough season in their new defense, Jerry signed him for $50 million so he isn’t going anywhere.

Because of a shoulder injury, Morris Claiborne only started 7 games for Dallas in 2013, and finished with just 26 tackles, 1 INT. Jerry has a 1st and 2nd round pick invested in Mo so they have to hope he has a bigger impact next season.

Last year they drafted CB B.W. Webb but he hasn’t contributed much at this point. However Kiffin seems to have high hopes in Webb but I fear he will prove to be a bust. We will find out next season.

2014 DRAFT: Cornerback is one position of the defense that I just don’t expect to change much during the draft. I will be surprised if they draft one.

Conclusion: To improve their run and pass defense, Dallas needs to focus on their front 7. Adding young talent on the defensive line will be a must in the draft. Picking up a LB would be nice and I don’t expect much change in the secondary.
Related: DRAFT NEEDS OFFENSE

Dallas Cowboys Free Agents: Sign Them or Time to Move on?

Now that Dallas has missed yet another golden opportunity to win the NFC East and make the playoffs, it’s time to determine which free agents Dallas needs to sign and who they may have to part ways with. This is the time of the year where Jerry Jones makes bone head decisions that put him deeper in the salary cap abyss as he tends to hold on to expensive players for too long.

ESPN reports that Dallas is expected to be about $31 million over the salary cap in 2014 with the next closest team in spend not even close. It includes almost $7 million tied up in Jay Ratliff who they let go. Proving once again, their GM (or let’s just refer to him as the rich oil man) Jerry Jones, can out spend his competition and still have little to show for it.

With those salary cap issues in mind, let’s take a look at who Dallas should keep and who they won’t be able to.

FREE AGENTS:
DE Anthony Spencer– Last season Jerry used the franchise tag ($9.6 million) on Spencer to keep him as a Cowboy but Spencer only played in one game the entire season getting in on a couple tackles in the loss to the Chiefs as knee surgery ended his season. Back in the 2012 season, Spencer had his best of his career by far, as he was named to the pro Bowl.

MOVE ON: In the case of Spencer, I believe Jerry will not be able to sign Spencer for the amount of money he and his agent want. And even if Jerry is crazy enough to try to, and you can’t put it past him, I think it is simply a bad idea. While Spencer had a good season in 2012 in a 3-4 defense, no one knows how he will play as a DE in the 4-3 defense. Also coming off of knee surgery should be a big concern too as Spencer turns 30 in just a few weeks.

The Cowboys were fortunate to find free agent DE George Selvie who had 45 tackles and 7 sacks last season, and should just move on from Spencer. Spencer was able to take Jerry for a nice ride last season, but the salary cap issues may not allow Jerry to do it again.

DT Jason Hatcher– This season Hatcher was the most consistent defensive lineman the Cowboys had. He was quite productive with 41 tackles, 11 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Two of those sacks came in the last game against the Eagles. It represents Hatcher’s best season of his 8 year career and it could be argued Hatcher was playing for a contract this season.

Sign him with a caveat(if possible): In the case of Hatcher, it may appear obvious that he needs to be resigned but it may not be that simple. If other teams show interest, it could make him become pretty expensive for a 31 year old DT. This is one where Jerry needs to be careful but in the past, he has gotten this wrong more often than right. Just look back to how Ratliff played Jerry.

With Dallas so over the salary cap, I’m not so sure they can afford to resign Hatcher. May be forced to move on.

Guard Brian Waters: Signed to a 1 year deal out of desperation this season and he actually played well while his 36 year old body lasted. Waters played 7 games (started 5) which is about 6 more games than I thought he would hold up. He hasn’t had surgery yet on his torn triceps and recently said he hasn’t decided what he will do. Waters doesn’t do preseason camps so don’t look for the codger to make any urgent moves to get ready to play.

Move On: While Dallas needs a good guard in a big way, Waters doesn’t represent any answers for the future. It was a spare tire that Jerry reached for early in the season after failing to draft a guard. Don’t get me wrong, Waters was a fine guard years ago but this idea is done.

Safety Danny McCray: The Cowboys found out in 2012 that McCray couldn’t be counted on to help them at safety and he was primarily kept as a special teams ace. But last season was his least productive season by far as he only had 8 tackles.

Move On: Rookie JJ Wilcox has shown promise at safety and the Cowboys found a decent prospect in Heath who played special teams too. I just don’t see Dallas signing McCray this time. I think they have to move on here.

Kicker Dan Bailey: Bailey has proven to be a very reliable NFL kicker which is a valuable thing. Last season he successfully made 28 of 30 FGs. He also handles the kickoff duties and is capable of getting no returns with his deep kicks.

Sign him: Bailey is actually a restricted free agent which I think makes it even more likely that Dallas will get him signed. Over the cap or not, Jerry has to get Bailey signed.